Helping Kids Cope With Loss
We parents do our best to shield our kids from the harsh realities of the world. But as much as we try, we can’t always protect our kids from experiencing the pain of loss.
Whether it’s the loss of a beloved pet, a childhood friend, or the loss of a family member, young children are often unequipped to deal with the feelings of grief and sadness.
Loss Can Be Especially Tough on Kids with Anxiety
Loss is difficult for any child but even more so for kids who struggle with anxiety. Sometimes it is the catalyst for new and unwanted behaviors such as irrational fears and phobias. These behaviors can be confusing and upsetting for both child and parents alike.
Aside from the typical signs of loss such as sadness and crying, children can also develop obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive acts while they grieve because they believe it will keep them safe. They may be preoccupied with death and need constant reassurance from you that they’re going to be okay.
5 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Loss
Thankfully there are things you can do to help your anxious child manage their emotions and grief in a healthy way.
Share what they can handle.
Kids have very big imaginations. They can often imagine a scenario that is far scarier than the current reality. While you may think speaking openly to kids about a pet or loved one’s illness and impending death will cause anxiety, very often not speaking with them will cause them even more.
Just be sure to share facts and information that are age-appropriate. For instance, a 12-year old may understand the concept of hospice care while a 5-year old may not. With younger children, share the simple essentials of death and dying.
Use children’s books.
It can be difficult finding just the right words to explain death and dying to a young child. At these times, children’s books about illness, dying and bereavement can be a tremendous help and can guide you in having developmentally appropriate conversations with younger kids. Ask your local library for recommendations. They are likely to have some excellent recommendations for you.
Encourage Their Honest Feelings.
Loss can cause people of all ages to completely shut down emotionally. Emotional numbness is a form of denial. While it’s okay for a child to take some space after the initial loss, you will need to help them feel their feelings about it.
Encourage them to journal, write, draw, paint, dance or whatever they feel like doing to express their grief and emotions. It’s important that they learn how to process their feelings now while they’re young as this is an important skill to bring into adulthood.
Accept Their Honest Feelings.
Like adults, kids may go through a range of emotions from anger to sadness, guilt to shame. Often times, they’ll cycle through the same feelings many times. It’s natural and okay for your child to feel any emotion they may have. Let them know this is normal and support them at every step of their grieving process.
Your child may benefit from speaking with a professional therapist who can offer tools and coping strategies. You’ll want to look for someone who’s not only qualified but who both you and your child will feel comfortable working with.
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